The Big Read

No. 79 – Bleak House, Charles Dickens Read 21/4/15

Affiliate Link:Bleak House (Penguin Classics)

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be done with Bleak House. It is my third Dickens from the list, leaving only A Tale of Two Cities, and it is my second book over 700 pages of the 15 I am trying to read this year. You might have noticed that at the rate I am going, I am never going to make it to 15 and I realise this. December is going to be really fun.

Anyway Bleak House. Rather than bore you with my thoughts on Dickens again I shall just leave links to my reviews of David Copperfield and Great Expectations here. However, Bleak House has opened my mind slightly to old Charlie. Whereas before the door was firmly shut it is now ajar. Bleak House is my favourite Dickens so far.

The novel is a satire of a Victorian court system called the Court of Chancery. I shall warn you now don’t bother trying to understand what this court does because it is impossible and always has been. Anyway, this court case called Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been raging for years and years and nobody can make head nor tail of it but what does happen is that two young people become the ward of a Mr Jarndyce of Bleak House. Our Narrator, Ester Summerson, has also been in the care of Mr Jarndyce since her aunt died, although she didn’t know it, and has been invited by Mr Jarndyce to become the companion of his ward Ada. Ester’s narrative runs parallel to an unknown narrator who deals with all the usually Dickensian stuff.

The beginning few chapters of Bleak House had me going “Oh God not again”. I can perfectly illustrate my point with this quote,

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.”

This is one of 5 paragraphs in the first chapter that mention fog. If you make it through the fog you eventually get to Ester’s Narrative which is so much more enjoyable. After a while the Dickens narrator, as I like to think of it, settles down as well and we get into the stories of some other people. That is the other thing about Bleak House there are a lot of characters to keep track of lots of law workers, lots of poor people and they tend to bleed into one.

I was rather disappointed to find out the Bleak House, wasn’t really bleak at all. In fact it is a comfortable, warm environment filled with love and affection. I know. What the hell Dickens? Don’t mislead me like that. The bleak side of Bleak House comes from the Court and the lawyers who uphold it. There is some very good social commentary made about the poor of London and how the Court cripples people but also about the power of the rich. Surprisingly, I found it still relevant today.

If you can wrap your head around all that there is an excellent mystery that runs through both narratives. I mean it’s no Gone Girl but it was enough to keep me turning the pages, if very very slowly. What I did like about this book was the way the characters weave through both narratives and Dickens throws in a few surprises along the way. You have your suspicions as a reader, some of mine turned out to be true, others I missed completely. It was by far the most enjoyable Dickens I have read and I am going into A Tale of Two Cities with a little less dread for having read Bleak House.

Rating: 4/5 (generous maybe more like 3.75)

Would recommend to: start with this one if you are new to Dickens.


My Top 5 Booktubers

As previously mentioned new things are happening here on Bernie and Books. I thought I would start by giving the people what they want. This post was suggested by emilinamar so thanks very much for that I hope you like it.

Now for those of you who don’t know what a Booktuber is, here is a brief explanation:

Booktuber: Noun, bʊk:tjuː.bər – A person who makes videos about books on Youtube.

Simple enough really. Booktube is a wonderful place where you can get excited about books and nobody will judge you. It’s kind of like Booklr in video form. Now these are my top 5 Booktubers but I am always on the look out for new channels to watch so let me know about your favourites in the comments.

5. polandbananaBOOKS

Now YA isn’t my thing so a lot of the books Christina or Xtina talks about I haven’t read, but you know what I really don’t care because she’s so funny. A lot of Booktubers talk very seriously about the ins and outs of a book but Xtina is just all about the laughs. She isn’t afraid to be ridiculous when it comes to books and I like that because if I’m honest, I have jumped up and down and made ridiculous noises when a book I’ve been waiting for arrives in the post. It’s really nice to get to see that other people do that aswell.

4. The Readables

The Readables or Priscilla has such high production value her videos are always beautiful to watch. She does these really cute little animations and graphics that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I also love that she covers a wide range of topics through her Top 5 Wednesday series and reads a wide range of books including graphic novels. She also talk about TV and film and the like which sometimes makes a nice change from books, books, books.

3. ItsWayPastMyBedtime 

Okay technically Carrie Hope Fletcher is more than just a Booktuber but I love her channel and she talks about books so she’s on my list. If you’re into reading, musicals, disney or tea Carrie’s your girl. She just wrote a non-fiction book herself which is pretty cool and if you are interested in theatre, like me, her vlogs from backstage at her job as Eponine in Les Miserables in the West End are fascinating.

2. JeanBookishthoughts 

What I love about Jean is the way her videos are slightly more ‘homemade’ than some of the others. She films on her iPhone, her editing is simple and her lighting nothing special. This is just a girl in her bedroom who is passionate about books so talks about them on the internet for our enjoyment. She talks much slower than a lot of vloggers which is so good, sometimes I watch youtube videos and end up completely stressed because of the speed the person has been talking. Jean takes things slow, she pauses for breathe and I have time to think about what she says.

And finally *drum roll*

1. booksandquills

Sanne aka booksandquills is the Booktuber that started it all for me and so she claims top spot on my list. She loves costume dramas (tick), classics (tick) and works in publishing. Originally from the Netherlands she now lives in London and I basically wish my life was like hers. *sigh*. Anyway she does a mixture of reviews, tags, hauls, collaborations and visits to bookish locations. She reads a wide range of books and everything she makes is beautiful. I really suggest you check out her channel I promise there is something for everyone.

So there we have it. My Top 5 Booktubers. Let me know what you think of my favourites and please suggest some of yours for me to watch. If there is anything I need in my life right now it’s more ways to procrastinate!

The Big Read

No.87 – Brave New World, Aldous Huxley Read 19/4/15

Affiliate Link:Brave New World

I’ll admit I love historic predictions of the future because it is fascinating to me to see what they got right and wrong. Whilst reading Brave New World I was wondering “did Huxley invent this entirely or were there already experiments of this kind in 1931?” Because the world he describes isn’t so far off.

In the year AD 2540 civilisation is no longer born, it is created in test tubes. Each baby is first engineered and then condition to play its own role in society. The world needs Alpha-plus intellectual individuals but it also needs Epsilon semi-morons to man machines. Whole factories can be manned by identical sets of twins all grown specifically to that purpose. “Everyone belongs to everyone else” and thanks to the drug soma nobody is unhappy. Except Bernard Marx. Perhaps a visit to one of the few remaining Savage reservations can cure him of his disillusionment?

Comparisons to 1984 are inevitable mostly because these two novels are very similar. That being said, I enjoyed Brave New World much more and I think that the point it makes is much better said. What I found so relevant in Brave New World, which is missing from Orwell’s novel, is the consumerism. Citizens are conditioned to play country sports, but hate the countryside so that they use the transport network to play their favourite sports but live in the cities where they will consume more goods. Those sports involve complex equipment so that there is always demand for the factories to supply. It is very clever and in many ways I see similar things in our society as well. For example, running is free and yet we still pay huge sums of money ever year to run on the spot indoors because of the psychology of ‘going to the gym’.

The writing of this novel was really engaging. There is a chapter where 3 conversations happen at once but every line is a different conversation. I really enjoyed that. It felt original. It helped to establish this idea of lack of individuality. These individual voices getting lost in the mass of society. I really enjoyed that. And of course the Shakespeare references. Having studied The Tempest twice in my academic life I got rather early on that the title is taken from that play. However, I was surprised the route the Shakespeare references took. Huxley makes quite an important point about art’s role in society and its relationship with happiness. Well I thought it was important. I know I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Shakespeare.

The ending was… okay I guess. In the forward to the edition I read Huxley said he would have written a different ending so I guess I am allowed to say it wasn’t so great. There was a moment when I had high hopes but then no. The nicest surprise was that the ending was set near where Huxley was born, Godalming, which isn’t so far from where I live. In fact many of the local towns and villages get a mention in the last chapter. Nice to know in Huxley’s fictional universe my home town still exists.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: science fiction/dystopia fans.


Versatile Blogger Award

Boom. How cool is that I got nominated for an award! Thanks very much to cup of tea with that book, please for nominating me. I often find it really weird that there are people out there reading my little corner of the internet so this is an amazing surprise and has really inspired me to keep blogging.

So in case you don’t know here are the rules:

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Pretty straight forward really. But then I started thinking about who I would want to nominate. A quick bit of searching and I found that almost everyone I had thought of had already been nominated, sometimes even more than once! Seeing as I am still kind of new here I didn’t want to pester anyone a lot more established than me. So I have come up with a plan. Rather than nominate the blogs I follow now, I am going to save my nominations for when I discover a new blog, perhaps one that is just starting out and would be really encouraged by getting the award.

I have no issues with the 7 facts bit so here we go:

7 Facts about Bernie and Books:

  1. I am currently at drama school in London studying Costume Production. That means I make clothes that people wear in the theatre, from budgeting and fabric buying to washing them between shows.
  2. I love rabbits. My current life goal is to own a house rabbit.
  3. I am wheat-intolerant which makes eating out a roller-coaster ride of “am I going to poop my pants?” (so far this has always been avoid but the struggle is real).
  4. My New Year’s Resolution for 2015 was to reduce my carbon footprint and have been transitioning to a “Zero Waste” lifestyle. (Side note, this is incredibly hard, much more than I expected and requires much more, time, energy and money than I actually have.)
  5. I am a big Star Wars fan.
  6. Beside reading, my other main hobby is knitting for charity and have sent garments all over the word including to refugees in Syria.
  7. My love of reading stems from a period of my life when I was devastatingly ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was so ill I lost my ability to read completely. That was 4 years ago now and although I will never recover from the Chronic Fatigue I now have the comfort of books again.

So there we have it. You know a little bit more about me. I would love it if you could comment with some facts about yourselves lovely readers so that I can get to know you a bit better as well. In the mean time I have just finished Brave New World by Aldous Huxley so I should probably write a review.

All the best, Claudia x

Other Books 2015

Other Books – Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro Read 15/4/15

Affiliate Link:Never Let Me Go

I often see a Stephen King quote floating about the internet “good books don’t give up all their secrets at once” and by that definition, Never Let Me Go is a good book.

Our narrator Kathy, sets the scene of her supposedly idyllic childhood at a boarding school called Hailsham. She appears to be recording her memories of her time there in a sort of memoir, as if it might explain something later on. She writes of her school friends, Ruth and Tommy and their guardians at the school especially Miss Laura and the young peoples journey to adulthood and the fate which has always awaited them.

I can’t really say much more without giving the game away and the mystery is so important to the story. Kathy talks to us as if we are an equal “I don’t know what it was like where you were” she tells us before describe something characteristic of Hailsham. This suggest that the reader knows the mystery even though it hasn’t been revealed. In many ways we do. The students at Hailsham are describe by Kathy as “knowing but not knowing” and the reader is in the same position. We know but nothing is ever explicitly explained to us. The parallel to the way the students at Hailsham have all these unspoken rules and understandings is incredibly prominent. As a result, the reader understands the atmosphere at the school through the atmosphere of the novel. This is so cleverly done I could praise it until the cows come home.

This mystery that isn’t a mystery keeps you reading and reading and reading. It isn’t an edge of the seat ‘I MUST SOLVE THE MYSTERY’ sort of page turner it’s just this pull towards understanding, a curiosity that can’t be satisfied. The plot itself is pretty unexciting, in fact I completely forgot about plot whilst reading because I was absorbed in these reminiscences in case there might be another clue, this anecdote, this is going to be the one where I find out the truth.

The characters are so well made by Ishiguro. They are honest human beings who have flaws and make mistakes and hurt other people. Ruth especially with the way she lies reminds me of a girl I went to school with. Kathy’s judgement of her is honest but not unkind so we see the rough and the smooth. Tommy is perhaps a little more romantically portrayed but again Kathy describes him as flawed, normal, human. It makes such a change to see people you recognise from real life portrayed in a novel. So often I find characters different to relate to, as if they were other from me, but it Never Let Me Go Ishiguro creates people who feels so real.

People often call this book science fiction. But ignore them. Ignore them all. This is literary fiction, science doesn’t come into it.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: read when you’re in a happy place. I Imagine it wouldn’t do anything good for the black dog.

Other Books 2015

Other Books – The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank Read 5/4/15

When you know a book is going to be sad it can be quite tough to get started. This was how I felt about Anne Frank’s diary. It is difficult to set out on a journey which you know is going to be upsetting and uncomfortable to face but all the same I am really glad that I made myself read this story.

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who documented her time in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She recorded the lives of her family and others who lived in an attic in Amsterdam through her diary. When the occupants of the annex were discovered they were transported to concentration camps all over Europe. Anne and her sister Margo died in Bergen-Belsen of typhus just a few months before the camp was liberated on this day 70 years ago.

I imagine the majority of the world knows Anne Frank’s story in some form or an other but what I hadn’t bargained for was how much her diary is about growing up. There is an awful lot of “no-one understands me” and other issues that we all face as we move into adulthood and for some reason, I had expected much more doom and gloom. Perhaps that is what makes this diary so moving; in spite of it all, in spite the intense fear and suffering, there is still an essence of normality.

In many ways the diary also examines what the intense pressure of such an enclosed environment does to the relationships between families and people. The arguments, the bickering is portrayed by Anne as an everyday occurrence one that she soon gets bored of documenting. It is also fascinating to watch as Anne grows up and as she begins to empathise with her mother. As she begins to understand her more the reader feels the resentment fall away and be replaced by a sad acceptance.

The most powerful sections for me are the ones about Hanneli, Anne’s close friend, who visits Anne in a dream and becomes a symbol for her for the wider suffering of her friends and people. The diary in general deals so little with the holocaust that these sections contrast strongly and poignantly with the light hearted tone of Anne’s writing. These moments were the ones that brought a lumps to my throat and a tear to my eye and it is largely due to the wonderful poetry of Anne’s writing. Everything else aside, she is a wonderful writer and there is a bitter sweet feel to the fact she was able to become a famous writer if only posthumously.

When the diary ends, so suddenly and without a hint of what is yet to come Hanneli came back to me. I think of the fear they all must have felt after being so close to safety. Just as Hanneli became the personal symbol of suffering for Anne, so Anne has become the personal symbol of the holocaust for me. When we talk about the holocaust we talk about numbers 11 million people, 6 million Jews but that scale is impossible for most people to comprehend. I recently went to Wembley Stadium which houses 90,000 people and I can’t quantify over 1000 times that many people. But what I can understand is a little girl, with hopes and dreams like we all have living everyday in fear and suspense and ending her life much too soon scared and alone and in agony. For that to happen to 1 person is horrific, let alone 11 million more.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: literally everyone, I really mean it this book should be read by everyone.

The Big Read

No. 56 – The BFG, Roald Dahl Read 3/4/15

Affiliate Link:The BFG (Dahl Fiction)

Part of me was completely shocked when I realised that I had never read The BFG. Surely I had read it, it is a quintessential part of childhood! But when I thought about it I didn’t even know the plot. Turns out I had missed out on one of the most important children’s stories ever written.

Before I get into the review I would like to make an observation about The BFG and that is I haven’t been able to find a second hand copy of it anywhere. I have been looking since I started this challenge nearly 2 years ago and I have never come across a copy of The BFG for sale in any charity shop, church fete, second hand book stall or jumble sale. In the end I borrowed the copy I read from the library. From this fervent search all I can conclude is that people hold onto their copy of The BFG because it holds fond memories for them and has sentimental value. It is possible that I have just been unlucky but I like to think that many people can’t bear to part from the beloved BFG.

So the review. A little orphan girl named Sophie wakes one night in The Witching Hour to see an enormous Giant blowing a mysterious trumpet through the windows of children’s bedrooms. Before she knows it this terrifying giant has snatched her from her bed and carried her of to Giant Country. There she learns that the terrifying giant is really the BFG; the Big Friendly Giant and he refuses to eat ‘human beans’ as a matter of principle. Sophie and the BFG hatch a plan to stop the other horrible giants stealing people to eat in the dead of night and it takes them on a journey to meet the Queen.

Roald Dahl is fabulous; everyone knows that. But this book for me held much more charm than almost every other work of his I have read. I think it is the relationship between Sophie and the BFG that make it so special. If you know anything about Roald Dahl it becomes quite obvious that Sophie, is his granddaughter and the BFG is himself. This relationship gives it a warmth that I have only felt previously in James and the Giant Peach. 

There is also a fabulous linguistic element to this book because it is a little like an exercise in learning to read. Dahl uses a lot of nonsense words which of course are very useful in teaching children phonetics and how to sound out a word they don’t know. He also makes the BFG speak with poor grammar saying “they is” instead of “they are” and other common mistakes children make. Theses devices make it an even better children’s book because it encourages learning as well as imagination.

I also love the inclusion of HRH Elizabeth II. It is incredibly comforting to think that the Queen can sort out any problem with a few commands and the help of the army and air force.

I really recommend this book. It is a dream and I only wish that I had grown up with it and come to treasure the BFG as so many other appear to.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: children everywhere.